Entertainment TV Insight goes inside notorious women’s jail

Insight goes inside notorious women’s jail

insight female prison
One of the inmates speaks to SBS's Insight about life behind bars in maximum security. Photo: SBS
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Meagan (not her real name) dispassionately recounts some of the violent episodes that have led to her being locked up in NSW’s Silverwater Maximum Security prison.

“I hit [my victim] three times in the head with a cricket bat,” Megan tells interviewer Jenny Brockie on Tuesday night’s Insight series on SBS.

“I went straight back to the couch and to the television”.

Brockie asks: “How hard did you hit her?”

Megan responds: “I’m guessing it was quite hard because she had a haematoma (a golf ball sized haematoma) to the brain.

“I feel nothing at all. I am blank.”

Brockie is a veteran journalist who has secured access to Redfern Police Station for her Cop it Sweet documentary and to a courthouse for So Help Me God.

Now, she has been allowed into Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre – though hearing what prisoners and staff have to say in her one-on-one interviews, there’s very little “correctional” about it.

Meagan also took a baseball bat and bashed a woman because she had smacked her son’s face.

“She had to have a knee reconstruction. I didn’t feel anything because I despise her because of who she is,” Megan said.

And in another jail she bashed a fellow inmate she says was snitching to the prisoner officers. She broke her nose, split her bottom lip and broke two fingers.

After the fight, she went back to her room, changed her clothes and shoes to get rid of the blood. Again she said: “I felt nothing.”

Meagan was sent back to maximum security at Silverwater.

insight female prison
Meagan’s story during the show is harrowing. Photo: SBS

This is powerful television and Brockie manages to cut through any attempts at obfuscation by her subjects. She leads the women through their stories and attempts to provide answers to the “why” question.

Shannon (not her real name) is there for hacking into bank accounts.

She explains she took ice and, having been to a technical high school, was able to work out how to break through security systems and steal the money she needed for a comfortable lifestyle. She knew the bank customers would be paid back the money she took.

“I hope I wouldn’t do it again,” she says – but only, she says, because such fraud is much harder than it was.

Now she feels more comfortable in jail and recently broke her parole so she could go back. She didn’t want to go to rehab again.

Prison isn’t working

What’s clear from the first of two episodes is that the prison system isn’t working if the end result is supposed to be punishment, then rehabilitation.

Incarceration rates for women in NSW are up by 60 per cent in the past decade and almost 43 per cent of them will return to prison.

insight female prison
Jenny Brockie does not let her interview subjects shirk her tough questions. Photo: SBS

Meagan says her entire family has been to jail – including her husband. Her first offence was at 11 when she took her uncle’s car in Newcastle and led the police on a high-speed chase as she and her brother attempted to return to their home in Dubbo after her mother was jailed.

Listening to her talk, it’s almost impossible to see how she could have avoided the family trajectory and now, she says, her 14-year-old son is getting into trouble as well.

As she tells Brockie, in her world, you don’t call the police to sort out the problems, you sort them out with your fists in your own backyard.

Not that the police, she says, would come to help anyway. This is simple, intimate, effective storytelling – a must watch for anyone interested in crime and punishment.

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